When you think of ink, it probably conjures up images of printer cartridges and refills. Or maybe you’re a bit more old-school and think of bottle of fountain pen ink. Either way, all the ink we know today shares the same history.
The origin of ink dates to around 2500 BC, when the Chinese developed the very first inks by mixing gum arabic with lamp black or carbon from their fires. The gum arabic probably lent the ink a thicker consistency than we’re used to today, but it worked well with the brushes that were their writing instruments of choice.
At roughly the same time, Egyptians were also experimenting with similar ink mixtures that allowed them to utilize papyrus to write on, instead of clay tablets. The Egyptians were more proficient in the use of color, and many of their efforts – papyrus scrolls and frescoes – can still admired today.
In the 4th century BC, the Chinese again advanced ink technology when they invented India Ink. The advancements came in the form of ingredients, which had to purposefully imported from India – tar, pitch and even burnt animal bones. Perhaps the best known early documents that were created with India Ink are the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were written during the first century A.D. – after ink recipes had proliferated across literate societies.
For roughly 500 years, ink and writing technologies remained fairly unchanged. In the 5th century, iron gall inks were developed. Iron gall inks consist mostly of iron sulfate and tannic acids such as those from oak galls, apple-like appendages that grow on some oak trees. Because of the iron, after it’s put down on paper iron gall ink grows darker as it ages and is still one of the most durable ink recipes ever invented. However, oak gall ink has the unfortunate ability to sometimes eat away the paper it is used on. At roughly the same time that oak gall inks were developed, the use of writing quills also became popular.
About 1000 A.D., the Egyptians developed the first ink reservoir pen – the ancestor of today’s fountain pen. In the 1400’s, Johannes Gutenberg (yes, THAT Johannes Gutenberg) invented his own oil-based inks and ushered in their popularity.
Up until the mid-1800s, most people were forced to utilize basic black or brown inks. Color was usually reserved for special purpose documents, such as religious tracts or government decrees. Around 1856, William Perkin began producing the first commercially available inks available in a wide variety of colors.
From that point on, ink and writing technologies expanded at a vast rate (too vast to be covered in is humble blog), and have led us to where we find ourselves today.